CRUZH – The Jungle Revolution

Few bands have managed to take such a giant leap in terms of quality between their first and second records as Swedish rockers Cruzh. Their 2016 album showed promise in terms of its (admittedly unfashionable) AOR-centric songs, but on that record, they sounded like an entire product of the studio. The guitars were smooth and the vocals subjected to so much post-production, they barely sounded human. In short, the material had no real bite. Their second record ‘Tropical Thunder’ – issued by Frontiers Records five years later – was a great improvement. The songs, still indebted to the Danger Danger debut and equally 80s-tastic material by Alien, came with a big heart, but more importantly, seemed to breathe far more naturally. Despite still being overproduced, the 2021 Cruzh had seemingly learnt the value of a more rock derived vocal, and some of the material shared great guitar work, suggesting that this band actually had the potential to become a decent melodic rock act. Granted, they’d still have to go a fair way to beat fellow Swedes Lionville and Streetlight in terms of sheer quality, but ‘Tropical Thunder’ was certainly a huge step in the right direction…

Fast forward three more years to 2024, and Cruzh’s third full length disc ‘The Jungle Revolution’ is another album that shows the band as having a solid set of talents and old fashioned potential. It’s very much the kind of record the debut should have been, and updates the second with a rockier sound in a few places.

The title cut kicks everything off with a very pleasing marriage of hard sounding drums and chiming guitars, occasionally sounding like a relation to the stronger cuts from Def Leppard’s self titled 2015 disc, and also shares a speed driven lead break that comes closer to the 80s metal of Judas Priest circa 1984 than any expected Danger Danger-isms. The push and pull between the melody and grit makes this classic Cruzh from the outset, and even a bigger concession to those previously annoying shiny vocals doesn’t kill the vibe here. Given how much this often sounds like a Leps cast off, those over produced voices sort of go with the territory. Sliding effortlessly into the harder ‘Angel Dust’, the glam infused riffs are a definite call back to the musicians’ roots and their former band TrashQueen. With a hint of AOR on the chorus, and the sleazy bombast falling away to reveal a pleasingly smooth middle eight, however, it’s still a number that sits well among some top drawer melodic rock fare. For those less keen on the crashier elements of the main riff, a huge harmonic guitar solo should still hit the mark and, overall, it’s another well arranged tune that manages to share a variety of Cruzh’s biggest influences very effectively.

The massively melodic ‘FL89’ plays very much like a call back to the Cruzh debut with a much poppier core. A welcome focus on huge vocals and cleaner guitars takes the band even further in the direction of bands like Danger Danger and Trixter, but there’s something at the heart of the chorus that delivers something even more commercial. Cruzh fans will recognise a lot of the band’s melodic hallmarks, but with the assistance of brilliant guitar solo, a couple of twin leads, some very 80s keys and one of those old school interludes with a voice coming through a radio, everything is ramped up to deliver a massive feel good factor. It’s as cheesy as hell, but it’s clear that the band are loving every moment. Much broader AOR strokes colour the very commercial ‘Killing In The Name of Love’, with a bigger focus on keys and harmonies. There are touches of early Alien within the chorus melody, and various soaring lead guitars tap into the Swedish melodic rock sound of the ’20s with ease. In many ways, it’s the kind of thing you’ve heard from Cruzh previously, but their commitment to a late 80s sound cannot be faulted here. Between a few big harmonies and the latter part of the track’s flawless guitar work, it becomes a melodic rocker that’s got a huge heart. The fact that everything draws heavily from a nostalgic sound really works in the band’s favour once more.

Reaching the end of what would’ve been the end of side one in those cassette and boombox days, ‘Skullcruzher’ wrong-foots the listener with a rather grand intro where the keys invoke classic Magnum circa 1985 with a very Mark Stanway-esque flair, before hammering through a set of jagged melodic rock riffs that might have suited Heavens Edge back in the day. Despite not being Cruzh’s most inspired tune, it still run rings around anything on the Heavens Edge comeback record of 2023 in terms of melodic rock. Of particular note are the use of backing vocals – a massive round of whoahs are employed throughout, which manages to offset a slightly uneasy hook rather nicely – and the featured lead guitar break, where a set of long vibrato edged notes appear to opt for the almost cinematic against a heavier riff, before moving into a world of expected melodies where clean tones are eventually topped with a twin lead. In terms of solos, it pretty much covers the full run of Cruzh styles without upstaging the rest of the track.

With ‘Split Personality’ beefing up the drums and increasing the speed, fans get a quick dose of a band really rocking out, and although this never feels quite as natural as a track like ‘FL89’, there’s a pleasure in hearing frontman Alex Waghorn pushing his voice for even more of an 80s sound, and bassist Dennis Butabi Berg adding a few decent fills beneath the crashier style. It’s unlikely to be your favourite Cruzh tune – it’s far too much of a knockabout rocker for that – but with a decent (if rather busy) solo joining a full on rock vocal, there’s a lot here to enjoy if you turn your brain off for a while, before ‘Sold Your Soul’ shares yet another side of Cruzh’s talent by adding a hard rock swagger to their glam-ish sound. With a dirtier guitar sound utilised throughout and even more of a retro edge, there’s a power within the number that is vaguely reminiscent of XYZ, which will be enough alone for some listeners to consider it a standout track. Switching back to their tried and tested melodic rock sound for ‘Winning’, there’s a world of filtered vocals joining a riff that sounds like something pulled from the sessions of the Bon Jovi debut, and despite working a very safe arrangement, there’s a real love gone into the recording. The guitar tones are superb, but those paying a little closer attention might well get as much enjoyment from the occasional keys and a riff beneath the chorus that suggests something a little darker.

After a run of good to great songs, the band – unfortunately – decide to close ‘The Jungle Revolution’ with the album’s weak link. As you might guess from the title, ‘Gimme Anarchy’ isn’t subtle. Dropping into a heavier riff, there are vague hints of Motley Crue circa ‘Primal Scream’, which seems at odds with a shiny backing vocal. Luckily, Alex is on hand to link the two extremes with a range of notes that pull the best from his melodic metal style, which he manages in a rather admirable way. Unfortunately, he’s been saddled with a bunch of lyrical clichés (“do you wanna piece of me / the public enemy” is especially grating by the third listen), and it’s essentially down to guitarist Johan to save face via a corker of a guitar solo. He plays up a storm; between this and a very eastern sounding melody that makes the best of a twin lead sound, this track isn’t a complete dud. However, despite sharing this tune with best of intentions, it’s clear that Cruzh aren’t as handy with the heavier stuff – they definitely sound far more at ease with a very 80s melodic rock backdrop. Maybe if this didn’t have the misfortune to be the last thing you hear before the disc stops spinning, it might fare a little better…but, then again, maybe not.

It isn’t quite as strong as ‘Tropical Thunder’, but the bulk of ‘The Jungle Revolution’ presents a very well crafted, if often predictable, affair. The best material often finds Cruzh treading water, and occasionally sidestepping from the previous album rather than making any further strides forward, but most of their fanbase will be happy enough with that. Between ‘FL89’, ‘Sold Your Soul’ and ‘Killing In The Name of Love’ there are a few clear standouts, and with ‘Angel Dust’ and ‘Skullcruzher’ more than keen to flaunt a much rockier edge, this third record has more than enough solid material to make it a recommended purchase for AOR fans everywhere. Without ‘Gimme Anarchy’ it would have been even better…but the best advice is to approach this long player expecting a fun listen, and nothing more. That way, you’ll certainly find more than enough to enjoy.

February/March 2024